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ENL 6236: Restoration and
Eighteenth-Century Literature

Civility and the Public Sphere


Class 3

Reading Assignment:

Selections from the Tatler and Spectator by Addison and Steele
NAEL, 2479-2505

Also browse selections on the Norton Topics Online for Restoration and Eighteenth century, under the topics "A Day in Eighteenth-Century London" and the "Plurality of Worlds."

Erin Mackie, "Introduction: Cultural and Historical Background," The Commerce of Everyday Life: Selections from the Tatler and The Spectator, ed. Erin Mackie (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1998), 1-32. This will be available in PDF on the Blackboard Website, under class documents.

    Due: Post #2

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Notes and Discussion Questions:

1.

The Mackie article and the introductory note in the NAEL should provide you with ample information on the background and significance of these periodicals. They also contain valuable information on the course theme: Civility and the Public Sphere. As you read, consider the ways in which these texts shape public opinion and manners.

Mackie identifies "the central structural paradox of the papers" as a fundamental dependence upon "the very commercialization and commodification they warn against" (3). In what ways are these periodicals commodities? How do they accommodate this paradoxical relationship to the market economy?

How would characterize the style of the papers? How do these compare with other literary essays that you know? What is the function of the persona employed in each?

Evaluate the role of "vision" in the Spectator? What are the implications of spectatorship, of seeing?

Comment upon the use of character portraits or types. Also consider the role of real and fictitious letters from correspondents. What effect do these strategies have on the meaning of the paper? On the popularity?

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2.

In what ways do these papers convey the values or ideological content of a middle class prior to that class formation? (See Mackie 5-6.)

Comment: Regarding Addison and Steele as professional men, Mackie asserts: "Avoiding the defects of both [vulgar cits and dissipated elite], they propose principles of taste and conduct that achieve a kind of compromise between the moral demands of a more puritanical middle class and the stylistic refinement of the upper crust" (8).

What evidence can you find for the reformation of masculine character -- neither rake nor fop? What do the papers recommend instead?

Evaluate Steele's representation of duelling. What does he propose? In what ways is this a challenge to prevailing codes of masculinity?

Note the Tatler's assignment of topics to specific locales, such as coffee houses. What impact does this have on the knowledge conveyed?

Jurgen Habermas associated these papers with the formation of a "bourgeois public sphere" which Mackie identifies as "at once a symbolic space and a literal space for the production of that set of ideological and social ideals we have come to identify with the polite middle class" (16). How does this public "become aware of itself" (17)? What role do the periodicals and the coffee houses play?

Examine the premise that "theoretically at least, in the public sphere discrepancies of wealth and status are rendered inoperative" (17). How true is this?

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3.

Mackie provides important information on the formation of gender difference in the era, but I believe she overstates the gendering of separate spheres (a reality that may have appeared in the nineteenth century, but is never really absolute). For more information on this, please refer to Lawrence Klein, "Gender and the Public/Private Distinction in the Eighteenth Century: Some Questions about Evidence and Analytical Procedure," Eighteenth-century Studies 29.1 (1996): 97-109.

"According to the ideology of gender at work in The Tatler and The Spectator , woman form a distinct social category defined solely by their innate female nature" (20). What evidence for this can you find in the essays?

As writings of notable Whigs, how do the essays politicize the arenas of taste and manners?

Who are the members of the Spectator club? What does this membership suggest about the organization of Addison and Steele’s society? Who is missing? Why?

What are the Spectator’s goals? What does it mean to be the Socrates of the tea-table?

Why are female readers particularly likely to benefit from the essays?

Why is Addison so interested in determining true, false and mixed wit? What is at stake in the discussion?



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